Few modern-day political speeches need to be read in full, but Michael Gove’s today does. The speech to Policy Exchange’s Education Conference contains what must be the moral core of modern-day Conservatism, that disadvantage must not be destiny. Though, the speech does take a very Blairite approach to means. Gove declares that ‘what’s right is what works’.
The headlines have been grabbed by Gove’s argument that illiteracy can be ended in a generation. This is a noble aim and there’s no reason why this country should be so accepting of educational failure as it is. It is hard to dispute this part of Gove’s argument:
‘How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?
We wouldn’t accept a fifth of hospital operations going wrong or a fifth of flights ending badly. So why should we accept a system in which school standards were still too low?’
There are a few other clues to the next Tory manifesto in the speech. Gove seems to suggest that child benefit will be docked from parents whose children don’t attend school. He also implies that there will be further reforms to GCSEs if the Tories win the next election.
Gove has had a difficult few days; his spat with Theresa May over extremism in schools has irritated even some of his closest Cabinet allies. But today’s speech is a reminder that it is the Gove agenda that provides the Cameron project with its moral purpose.
Full speech below.
BETTER SONGS TO SING – THE MORAL PURPOSE OF OUR SCHOOL REFORMS
I’d like to begin by thanking Policy Exchange for this platform today. And I’d like also to thank Policy Exchange for the intellectual leadership it’s given to education reform.
Policy Exchange has been consistent in arguing for better schools, especially for the most disadvantaged children, in order to make opportunity more equal.
It has developed detailed policies to extend parental choice to all, get more great new schools in disadvantaged areas and re-distribute resources to help the poorest students. Those ideas have influenced the Conservative party’s policy in opposition and the Coalition’s programme in Government.
The expansion of the academy programme has ensured that communities denied a choice of good schools have at last been given the schools they deserve.
The introduction of free schools has set a new – and higher – bar for quality and innovation in state education. Already almost twice as likely as other schools to have been judged outstanding under the new, tougher Ofsted framework, they are proving an enormous success.
And the pupil premium – an idea I championed before entering politics and which I am delighted to have delivered in Government – has ensured £6.25 billion of additional money has been directed towards the poorest students in the country.
A relentless focus on closing the gap between the poorest students and their peers has been at the heart of everything we’ve done in Government.
Alongside the pupil premium, I have established the Education Endowment Foundation, an independent research body to champion the best ways of helping poorer students, changed the nature of league tables and inspection to place more emphasis on the achievement of the most disadvantaged and reformed children’s services to ensure the most vulnerable children are rescued from neglect and supported to succeed more effectively than ever before.
All of these reforms have been part of a long-term plan for our schools – shaped and supported by Policy Exchange’s work – and driven by a clear sense of moral purpose.
I want every child to go to be able to go to a state school which excels, which nurtures their talents, which introduces them to the best that has been thought and written, which prepares them for the world of work and adult responsibility, which imbues them with the strength of character to withstand life’s adversities and treat other humans with courtesy and dignity, which gives them the chance to appreciate art and culture, to enjoy music and drama, to participate in sport and games, which nurtures intellectual curiosity and which provides a secure grounding in the practical skills the modern world requires.
The reason I want that for every child is that I want that for my own. And I don’t see why as an Education Secretary I should settle for children going to a school I wouldn’t send my own children to. That would be morally indefensible.
THE HEARTS PREGNANT WITH CELESTIAL FIRE, THE FLOWERS THAT BLUSH UNSEEN
Which is why I find it hard to understand why anyone should wish to defend the state of the education system we inherited.
How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?
We wouldn’t accept a fifth of hospital operations going wrong or a fifth of flights ending badly. So why should we accept a system in which school standards were still too low?
Is it right that two-fifths of students should have left school without a grade C in English and Maths GCSEs? These are the basic minimum level qualifications most employers or universities demand.
But almost 40% of children failed to secure them. And among the poorest children – those eligible for free school meals – a majority left school without these qualifications.
I don’t know anyone in this room – anyone in parliament – anyone leading a school or leading a teachers union who would accept their own child leaving school without this bare minimum. But we accepted this fate for hundreds of thousands of children every year.
Changing that – rescuing the next generation – giving them the foundation they need to succeed – that has been the driving moral purpose of our education reforms. And I challenge anyone to explain to me why that is wrong, indeed why we shouldn’t be more driven and more determined to end this waste of human potential.
And yet people do. People do still say we’re being too demanding and driving too hard.
We have university academics – indeed the chairs of organisations like the National Association for the Teaching of English – saying that we should not introduce 15 and 16 year old children to Charles Dickens because his work will put them off literature for life.
We have historians who will defend teaching World War one to secondary school children through the medium of Blackadder and providers of historical teaching materials who argue GCSE students should learn about Hitler through the medium of Mr Men books.
We have political opponents who argue that expecting 16 year olds to get GCSEs in English, Maths, Science, a language and one of the humanities is creating a barrier to success and setting up children to fail.
Believe me, I know what real barriers to success look like. I spent the first four months of my life in care. Both my parents had to leave school at 15. My sister spent all her school career set apart from other children who were just as bright as her in a school for children with special needs. And I know what setting children up to fail looks like.
It’s sending working class children to school without daring to think they might be intellectually curious and capable of greatness, denying them access to anything stretching or ambitious, setting expectations so low you can never be surprised by someone’s potential, giving children flimsy photocopied worksheets instead of proper rigorous textbooks, feeding them a diet of dumbed-down courses and easy to acquire qualifications, lowering pass marks and inflating grades to give the illusion of progress, shying away from anything which might require grit, application, hard work and perseverance and then sending these poor children into the adult world without the knowledge, skills, character and accomplishments they need, and deserve, to flourish.
That is setting children up to fail. And that is what I will not tolerate.
WHAT’S RIGHT IS WHAT WORKS
Now some might allow that while the driving moral purpose of our reforms is right, the guiding principles have been wrong.
But which principles to follow?
I have been conscious throughout my time in Opposition and Government that there has been no single unchallenged consensus on how to improve our schools.
Listen to conversations between teachers, as I have done, study the experience of different nations at different times, consider the theories of philosophers, reflect on the debate in the twitter sphere and between bloggers and you can see there is a wide spectrum of opinion.
There is no such thing as “the view of teachers” any more than there is “the view of politicians” as an unchallenged and unified Weltanschauung.
So instead of setting out to follow a consensus that doesn’t exist – and I suspect never will – I have set out to follow the evidence.
In Government we have applied a simple set of tests to help frame education policy. For us, what’s right is what works.
And we’ve been lucky that our time in office has coincided with an increasing – and increasingly robust – body of evidence of what works in education.
Two men, more than any others, have studied what works across nations and cultures. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD and Sir Michael Barber, formerly of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit and McKinsey and now with Pearson, have studied the common characteristics of high performing education systems.
The first is school autonomy and parental choice. The more autonomy enjoyed at the level of the school principal, the better. If head teachers, rather than bureaucrats, can spend the money allocated to education, if they can hire and fire the professionals they want, if they can vary the curriculum and the hours of study, if they can be captains of their ship, then standards rise. And that is what we have seen with our academy and free school programme.
The second driver of excellence – which must accompany autonomy – is proper accountability. Parents – and governments – must have accurate fair and timely information about performance. So choice can be informed and state intervention proportionate. The strongest form of accountability comes from the data generated by externally set and marked tests and the judgements made by expert inspectors.
We have altered the tests and league tables by which schools are judged to make them both more ambitious for all children and fairer to all schools, giving credit primarily for the progress students make, whatever their starting point. Ofsted have also improved their inspection regime, making it more proportionate and focused. We are now in a better position than ever before to identify what works, and seek to spread it, more quickly than ever before and identify failure, and deal with it, more quickly than ever before.
The third essential element in school success is the quality of teaching. The difference between the progress made by children in a class with an excellent teacher and those in a class with an under-performing teacher can be as much as a year’s worth of learning, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We are lucky to have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools. But we must continue to aim higher. That is why we have introduced a series of reforms to improve the quality of teaching. We have dramatically increased the number of Teach First trainees, put high-performing schools at the centre of initial teacher training, made it easier for teachers from independent schools and experts from the outside world to enter state education and our new Teachers’ Standards require a higher level of professionalism for all.
All of these principles – autonomy, accountability, teacher quality – are common across high-performing systems. And I think there’s growing acceptance of their centrality among policy-makers worldwide.
But there are two other factors which I’d like to stress today as critical.
One is behaviour. The other is the curriculum.
Unless classrooms are ordered and purposeful places, then teachers can’t teach and children can’t learn. One of the factors which deters otherwise gifted teachers from staying in the profession is the poor behaviour they observe in class, the backchat and disruption which impede study and the lack of support they as teachers experience from school leadership teams which are insufficiently rigorous in policing bad behaviour.
Policy Exchange’s own work showed that the biggest deterrent stopping talented graduates enter teaching was their fear of being unsafe in the classroom. And poor behaviour is the second biggest cause of teachers leaving the profession.
We have made a series of changes to help teachers ensure behaviour is better – in class and outside. From strengthening rules on what can be searched, to making exclusion of the most disruptive more straightforward, from abolishing ridiculous no-touch rules to improving alternative provision for those who are excluded. But we need to do more.
Critically, we need to tackle the root causes of truancy and misbehaviour.
Children only have one chance at education – we can’t let them miss out on its transformative effect. We need to ensure every child is in school, benefiting from great teaching in every classroom, every school day. That is why we’ve tightened the rules on attendance and absence figures are down.
But there’s more to do. We need to ensure that those parents who don’t play their part in ensuring their children attend school, ready to learn and showing respect for their teacher, face up to their responsibilities. We will, later this year, be outlining detailed proposals to ensure parents play their full part in guaranteeing good behaviour and outlining stronger sanctions for those who don’t.
And just as we need all parents to discharge their responsibilities so we need all schools to play their part.
Critically, we need to ensure that all children leave primary school fully literate and numerate.
It’s those children who arrive at secondary school incapable of reading properly, who find they can’t follow the curriculum, who cover up their ignorance with a mask of bravado, disrupting lessons, disobeying teachers, dropping out of school, drifting into gang culture and in the worst cases, ending up in the justice system.
That is one critical reason why I have said we need – as a nation – to commit to eliminating illiteracy and innumeracy – to save lives which are currently wasted.
The number of children who genuinely cannot ever read – whose learning difficulties are so severe they cannot decipher prose – is tiny. But the number of children who currently leave primary school unable to read is indefensibly high.
We’ve taken action to deal with this scandal. Not least by introducing a phonics screening check at the end of Year One to make sure every child is decoding fluently and identify those children who need extra help. But we need to do more.
A determined national commitment to ensuring children are properly literate and numerate is not in any way a narrowing of the curriculum, it is a precondition of enjoyment of a fully rounded curriculum. And this commitment is not one that can be delivered by schools or Government alone; it will require the backing of all those who want children in this country to reach their full potential.
Fluency in reading and writing and mastery of mathematics are the keys which secure access to a broad and enriching academic curriculum. There is growing evidence – both from this country’s best schools and from other nations – that access to a stretching academic curriculum to the age of 16 helps improve performance for all children, all round. The work of Dr Cristina Iannelli at Edinburgh University demonstrates that the type of curriculum you study – specifically enjoyment of core academic subjects – is more important than the type of school you attend, whether grammar, independent or comprehensive, in determining future success.
The more children who enjoy a stretching academic curriculum – for longer – the better for all children. And the experience of Poland – the fastest improving nation in Europe educationally – reinforces that. As does the example of Germany, which has also dramatically improved its ranking in international league tables with a stronger emphasis on an academic core for all. Following an academic curriculum to the age of 16 is not, in any way, a downplaying of the importance of vocational education and training. Academic study to 16 is a prelude to vocational training, not an alternative to it.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the emphasis on a knowledge-based curriculum improves standards for all – the very best cognitive science, analysed and shared by thinkers like Dan Willingham and Daisy Christodoulou reinforces the fact that a knowledge based academic curriculum can stimulate critical thinking and creativity.
And our curriculum and qualifications changes provide more scope than ever before for higher order thinking skills and genuine creativity. They demand the exercise of advanced problem-solving skills in maths and science. They require extended essay writing and the mounting of complex arguments. And, of course, our new national curriculum is one of the first among developed nations to include computing and coding. It amazes me that some try to caricature our curriculum as backward-looking when it reflects the insights of cutting edge cognitive science and has been singled out for praise as world-leading by Eric Schmidt of Google.
It is encouraging that the changes we’ve made to the national curriculum and accountability have been so widely welcomed. But it’s important that we maintain the highest possible level of ambition and I want to say more about that today as well.
I’ve outlined these five key characteristics of successful school systems – autonomy for the head, rigorous accountability, high quality teaching, strict behaviour policies and an ambitious curriculum.
These qualities – of course – don’t just define high performing education jurisdictions – they also characterise high performing schools in this country.
THE INTERESTS OF ADULTS AND THE NEEDS OF CHILDREN
Take one of my favourite schools – Burlington Danes Academy. If you want to see a model of autonomy and strong leadership in operation observe the head teacher Dame Sally Coates in action.
Every half term children are assessed across subject areas and also graded for their level of application, social contribution and sporting performance. They are told how well they’ve done. And they know that their performance at the end of the term will be re-assessed and published for every student and every parent to see. This rank order system is hugely popular with parents – and also with students. Both are given objective measures of performance – and clear goals to aim for. Parents who were in the past assured in vague airy and amiable terms that their child was a nice lad and doing perfectly well now have hard data to help them support their child’s performance. They know if their child is under-performing expectations, and in what way. Students also know which teachers are most likely to help them climb the rank order system and clamour to be taught by the most gifted professionals.
What Sally Coates has done is replace the harmful competitiveness of street culture – the contest over who is coolest, whose trainers are smartest, whose attitude is hardest, whose backchat is the most fly, with the competitiveness of academic culture – the competitiveness which will help these children win out in later life – who is hardest working, who is the most community-minded, who is most eager to learn, who is most determined to improve.
What Sally has done in Burlington Danes is not unique and incapable of replication – indeed she’s written a brilliant guide which outlines how to match her performance – and she has protégés across the school system like David Benson at Kensington Aldridge Academy who will emulate her great work – but it is still striking that her school is significantly more successful than most even as it has a much tougher and more challenging intake.
The same holds with other schools I hugely admire – from Barry Day’s Nottingham Academy to Liam Nolan’s Perry Beeches in Birmingham – all have challenging intakes – all dramatically outperform other schools.
And at primary level – Durand Primary in Stockwell, Thomas Jones in North Kensington and Wyndham Primary Academy in Derby. All again have challenging intakes which dramatically outperform most other schools.
The fact that I single out these schools sometimes generates criticism. Not of those schools which are under-performing. But of me for pointing out that these schools are excelling and asking why more don’t match them.
But I’m not in the least apologetic for asking why more schools aren’t as good as these. It was the question that Barack Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan put to me after we both visited Mossbourne Community Academy. Always ask why every school isn’t as good as this, he told me. And don’t worry if the adults complain and say the question’s unfair. What’s fair is giving every child the same chance.
Arne was right – what matters in our school system is not what adults want but what children need.
MYTHS AND BOLD UNTRUTHFULNESS – THE WEAKNESS OF OPPOSITION CRITICISM
This determined focus on helping children, on refusing to excuse under-performance, on demanding better for the next generation, has generated opposition.
I certainly don’t seek out that opposition. But nor am I going to be deflected by it.
Because when I ask for the specifics behind criticism of our policies I don’t see, or hear, evidence, that stands up to scrutiny.
It’s been argued that schools are under-funded. But school spending overall has been protected in real terms at a time when significant savings have had to be found elsewhere in the public sector.
It’s been argued that teachers are under-valued. Well, I don’t think we can ever value teachers highly enough. Which is why I always take every opportunity I can – at every party conference, in speeches public and private, through the honours system – to emphasise how fortunate we are to have the best generation of heads and teachers ever.
It’s why I’ve appointed teachers to run Ofsted and the National College for Teaching and Leadership. It’s why I’ve asked teachers to review teaching standards and initial teacher training. It’s also why I’ve ensured good teachers can be paid more and ensured that teachers have been invited to take up residencies in the Department of Education advising on the development and implementation of policy.
It’s been argued that our drive towards autonomy means more schools can go wrong more quickly without adequate action being taken. That is the opposite of the truth. Academies and Free Schools are more accountable than local authority maintained schools. The system of independent audit and publication of academies’ and free schools’ accounts, backed up by regulation by the Education Funding Agency, is more stringent than the rules for charities, limited companies, and local authority maintained schools. Indeed when the Audit Commission took a look at local authority schools last year, they encountered at least 191 cases of fraud – a figure they acknowledged was almost certainly an underestimate.
All Free Schools are scrutinised by Ofsted prior to opening, supported by independent education advisers in the months after they’re set up and inspected by Ofsted in the second year of opening. When performance is too poor – as it was with two schools – Al Madinah and the Discovery Free School – radical action is taken, and taken quickly. To put this in context: two state schools go into special measures every school day – not every year, month or week, but every school day – and 73 local authority maintained schools have gone into special measures so far this year alone.
And the speed of improvement in local authority schools is often far, far too slow. There are 35 local authority schools which have been in special measures for 18 months or more. Where action has been taken it has often been because the Department for Education has been more determined to ensure schools improve than local authorities. We have already taken more than 900 schools that were struggling under council control and given them the support of an academy sponsor – and many are already seeing significant improvements.
It’s been argued that our reforms place insufficient emphasis on culture and creativity. Again, the facts don’t even begin to bear this out.
On the contrary – we’ve set up new programmes from the BFI Film Academy to help train the next generation of talented film-makers to the new National Youth Dance Company, which works with Arts Council England, and the Sadler’s Wells Trust to bring together talented young dancers.
We’ve placed a particular emphasis on encouraging drama. We are funding the Shakespeare School Festival to give thousands of children the chance to stage an abridged version of a Shakespeare play in a local theatre – with over 1,000 schools and 62,000 students benefiting so far. We’re also funding the Royal Shakespeare Company to help actors get into the classroom and all state schools now receive a free copy of the RSC Shakespeare Toolkit for Teachers, offering over 60 hours of teaching resources on Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
And building on Darren Henley’s independent review into music education, 123 new music education hubs have been set up across the country, ensuring that every child aged five to 18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and to sing, as well as to perform as part of an ensemble or choir.
It’s also been argued that we’ve neglected vocational and technical education. Again, that’s the opposite of the truth. We’ve introduced the biggest reforms to vocational education since 1944.
We’ve stripped out poor-value, meaningless qualifications and are replacing them with new qualifications giving 14-16 year olds real-life skills in practical subjects. After 16, we’ve introduced the new, rigorous Tech Levels – every single one endorsed by employers, trade or professional bodies as leading to a skilled occupation.
Because maths and English are essential in every job, we’re reforming GCSEs so that all students master the basics necessary for employment and ensuring that all young people who don’t secure a good grade by 16 carry on studying these vital subjects afterwards. And we’ve put employers in the driving seat of new apprenticeships – more than 400 employers across 37 sectors are now helping to design and deliver new apprenticeships. As a result there is – at last – the prospect of a genuine equality of worth and parity of esteem between all qualifications.
It’s been argued by some that our reforms lead to an atomised system which works against collaboration. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Academy chains, teaching school alliances, professional development partnerships, all show how open collaboration can improve standards.
Right across the country, 548 new Teaching Schools have formed 450 alliances with schools and partners – meaning that one fifth of schools around England are now working in collaboration with a Teaching School, with numbers rising all the time.
And this collaboration achieves real results. Look at Harrison Primary in Hampshire, for example. They work with over 30 schools, using experienced teachers, Specialist Leaders of Education or SLEs, to improve standards – and over the past two years, 70% of schools supported by SLEs in their alliance have improved their Ofsted ratings from ‘Requires Improvement’ to ‘Good’.
THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN
Of course I accept there have been mistakes and missteps along the way.
Trying to reform GCSE content and structure and the GCSE market at the same time was a bridge too far.
But then who can doubt, given the tendency of some exam boards to try to compete on the ease of their course rather than the quality of their service, that further reform may be necessary?
Some academy chains expanded too fast, and some schools did not get the support they needed as a result.
But then – in many more local authority areas poor schools have been left in the wrong hands for far too long.
Take Knowsley. If you want a case study in a policy that has really scarred the lives of thousands and deserves to be recorded as a scandal consider what happened with this local authority.
Back in 2010, it proudly proclaimed that it was the first local authority to have all its secondary schools rebuilt under the Building Schools for the Future programme. One of them – a national flagship – cost the taxpayer £24million.
But that wasn’t Knowsley’s only educational claim to fame. It was also one of the worst performing councils in England – and had been for almost ten years.
As the TES said, “flush with Building Schools for the Future money, [the local authority] frequently opted for unconventional methods in a bid to boost performance…schools were rebranded “centres for learning”, teachers renamed “progress leaders” and Knowsley itself became an “innovation zone” …[after] an audit into students’ “learning styles”, it concluded the majority were “kinaesthetic learners” who learned best through physical activity. Teaching methods and school buildings were changed accordingly.”
But improvements came there none. That flagship £24 million school closed after just two years. And last year, again, the local authority was the worst performing in the country – with the smallest percentage of pupils attaining five A*-C grades, including English and maths, in England.
GCSE results for 2013 showed that 43.7% of pupils in Knowsley gained 5 A*-C, including English and mathematics, compared to 59.6% in the North West region and 60.6% nationally.
Just 10% of the pupils in Knowsley took the EBacc, our roster of the rigorous academic subjects valued by universities and employers – 10% compared to 23% nationally.
And if you think Knowsley is atypical, consider the entrenched failures of so many other local authorities where standards have continued to be far too low for far too long.
Take Nottingham – last year, the poorest performing local authority in the East Midlands. Just half of young people achieved 5 A* to C grades at GCSE including English and Maths.
After Ofsted carried out urgent inspections in the area, Nottingham local authority set up a dedicated challenge board aiming to improve standards. But five months on, the area is no further forward – and Nottingham schools are still under-performing.
Or take Derby – another local authority vehemently opposed to academies – where our efforts to tackle chronic underperformance have met resistance at every turn.
Yet it’s one of the worst performing local authorities in the country – at the end of primary, at GCSE, throughout their school system – and has been for many years. Last year, Ofsted even took the step of carrying out a focused week of inspections in the area – and warned the local authority that “there is still much work to do in establishing and embedding a clear, strategic vision for school improvement that will lead to sustained and demonstrable impact across the city’s schools.”
I would rather we sought to intervene quickly in the case of failure, and sought also to learn just as quickly from our mistakes, than assume the defensive and defeatist posture of the past.
FACTS ARE CHIELS THAT WINNA DING
Indeed it’s important in reviewing what’s been achieved so far to bear in mind the facts on the ground.
We have fewer 16-18 year olds who are NEET – not in employment, education or training than at any time since consistent records began. Their number is down by more than a third under this Government.
Fewer children are in failing schools than ever before – even as the bar on what counts as failure has been raised. There are 250,000 fewer children in under-performing secondary schools now than in 2010.
More children are studying the subjects that secure good jobs and great college places than ever before.
At A-level the numbers studying Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry are all up by between 15 and 19% since 2009/10.
Teachers are better qualified than ever before.
More schools are good or outstanding than ever before.
Ofsted record that last year saw the biggest single improvement in school performance since records began.
More students are graduating into higher education and more disadvantaged students are making it into higher education.
At primary school the gap between the poorest and the rest has narrowed.
And the impact of many of our reforms has still to be felt – the oldest free schools have barely been in operation for three years, most have been open for less than eighteen months. Many of our weakest schools have only been in the hands of strong sponsors for a year or two, after years of poor leadership. Our new national curriculum only takes effect this September.
So I expect there to be significant further improvements in our school system in the years to come – provided we do not put at risk the gains we have made by retreating on reform.
Indeed, far from retreating, we have to ask how we can accelerate improvement in our schools.
As Adrian Wooldridge and John Micklethwait make clear in their fascinating new book, The Fourth Revolution, other nations – especially but not exclusively in Asia – are accelerating reform of their public services, making imaginative use of technology, introducing more new providers, deploying performance data in a more sophisticated way, empowering citizens to hold institutions to account more effectively, stripping out bureaucracy, ensuring the gains secured by innovation are spread more quickly.
So we have to ask ourselves – do we want to go backwards, opt out of the future, ask our children to accept this nation’s inevitable decline?
Or will we take advantage of the opportunities the future brings, ensure our public institutions serve every citizen fairly and equip our children for success?
I believe we have to embrace reform, lean in to the future, set standards higher than ever before.
We need to ensure that more schools enjoy greater autonomy than ever before and more parents have a wider choice than ever before.
We need to ensure that accountability is sharper, more nuanced and effective than ever before. That is why I welcome Sir Michael Wilshaw’s leadership in saying more inspections have to be conducted by serving school leaders and inspection has to be more focused on under-performing schools and lighter touch for high-performing schools.
We also need to ensure all relevant bodies, including Ofsted, are in a position to do everything necessary to deal with those schools where student or adult behaviour is unacceptable and where children are not being kept safe. Some of those changes will be difficult for both the DFE and Ofsted – but we must not shy away from doing what’s right.
We need to do even more to secure the very best people in teaching. Andrew Carter’s review into Initial Teacher Training will help us shape a better landscape for trainee teachers. But there are clearly areas on which we can already build.
The Maths and Physics Chair programme provides additional funding for postgraduates in these subjects to teach in our schools and help mentor other teachers.
We must explore how to introduce more, and more powerful, incentives for mathematicians and scientists to stay in education and commit to the classroom. We need to bridge the gap between high performing secondaries and under-performing primaries by getting specialist mathematicians and scientists teaching students from the end of Key Stage One. We also need to bridge the gap between our best universities and schools by getting more higher education institutions like King’s College London and Exeter University to set up specialist schools like their Maths free schools and, of course, University Technical Colleges.
As I said, right at the beginning of my remarks, there is a moral purpose to our schools policy. We want to ensure disadvantage is not destiny. We want liberate children from any accidents of birth or background to determine their own fate.
And that means making sure every child gets to attend a school which is a place of order, calm, learning and purpose.
Great schools are where children, in Willy Russell’s words, learn to sing better songs, they’re the places where children can acquire the skills to become authors of their own life story. Ensuring every child has that chance is my mission. And there is so much more to do….